Wednesday, January 25, 2012

What is Fit?

After my post Resolve earlier this month, writing friend Sandra Renee asked me to clarify what I meant about the “right fit” in the comments, since I talked about how important fit is when submitting your work.

My first reaction was you know it when you see it, which isn’t very helpful. So in this post I’ll try to dig a little deeper.

Fit is Doing Your Homework….

In order to know where your work fits, you have to have some understanding of what you write. This isn’t always as straightforward as it sounds. Maybe you wrote a story that straddles two or more genres. Maybe you wrote something so different from what you normally write, you’re not sure what to do with it.

Next comes research. In the first case, you’ll need to figure out which markets accept genre-mashups or at least don’t autoreject them. In the second case, you might have to do a bit more hunting around. Ask writing friends how they would classify your story (especially if it’s in an area you are ignorant of) then try to find other stories similar to yours and see where they were published. is the single best tool I’ve found for researching literary markets. Their search tool allows you to search markets (including small presses) on a variety of parameters including genre, payscales, and length of work. I would also encourage you to sign up for their weekly mailing list, which includes information on new calls, markets’ openings and closings, and interviews with editorial staff. I make a point to scan the calls every week to see if there’s something that either piques my interest or would fit with a story I have yet to place. The interviews are also helpful in discovering markets you may not otherwise run across.

If you are hunting for the perfect agents, the Guide to Literary Agents’s Agent Advice column is great for learning more about agents. You should also take a look at their Publisher’s Marketplace page to see their current client list and recent sales. If you don’t like the look of the books/authors you see there, maybe another agent is better for you.

…And then Exceeding Expectations

After you’ve zeroed in on your list of potentials, it’s up to you to do your best to make your work shine. Sometimes this means taking out the red pen one more time to ensure you’ve caught everything you possibly can before submitting. Or workshopping it with trusted readers. Or sometimes you may have to tweak it just a bit to fit the market or the editor’s preferences based on your research. Remember, half the battle is not giving the editor (or agent) an excuse to reject you right off the bat.

But above all else, follow the submission guidelines, even if they ask for ridiculous things (except money—never that). Some places are sketchy on the specifics, so when in doubt, stick to standard manuscript format.

And then cross your fingers. Because the rest is out of your hands. You have to trust that you did the best research you could and sent in your best work. Take comfort in that. Not all writers take the same pride in the submission process—as any editor or agent can tell you.

For more on the submission process, check out my post Planning for the Worst for short story submissions and my latest Resource Roundup post Querying Your Masterpiece.

Stages of Fit-ness

I will say that I’ve noticed differences in how I approach short story markets over the course of my writing journey.

Find the Fit – In the beginning, I was desperate to find any place that accepted stories that were remotely close to what I was writing. I took my square stories and tried to shove them into round markets. Sometimes it worked, but a lot of times it didn’t. I wanted to get published right now to justify and validate my work. I was also immature enough in my craft that the market had to fit my piece, not the other way around, since I wasn’t confident enough in my abilities as a writer to make the needed changes.

Make the Fit – Time passed, and I became more confident in my work and my abilities. I started targeting specific venues, primarily speculative fiction markets with themed calls. And I’ve had a lot of success in that department (more of which I *should* be able to share with you soon). I think it’s a confidence issue, but it’s also taking the themes and putting your own unique twist on them. Give the editors a story they didn’t even think about when developing the call, and make sure they can’t say no. The next step, for me at least, is to have a story accepted for an open call.

Be the Fit – I’d like to think at some point in a writer’s career fit is not something you have to worry about anymore. Markets seek out your work instead of the other way around. You no longer have to worry about where you fit in the market because you already have a place. Must be nice. But in the meantime, keep writing.

How do you determine fit?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Resource Roundup – Querying Your Masterpiece

You’ve finished your book, you’ve revised, you set it aside, and you’ve reread it (revised some more ad nauseam) and decide it doesn’t suck. Now what? Well, if you want to be traditionally published, you start looking for agents. Someone who loves your book as much as you do and will shepherd it through the publishing process. But to find the right agent, you need to query them, and not just any old query will do.

As in previous posts in this series (Finding the Right Word, Conjuring Up Titles, Crafting Dialogue, and Opening Your Story), I focused on online resources. There were a ton of posts out there, many of which I’ve gone through and evaluated for their usefulness. But if you’ve come across other valuable resources, please tell me about them in the comments, and I’ll include them when I add this to my Resource Roundup links on the sidebar.

So let’s get started. And remember, I’m talking about full-length novels. Not non-fiction, not short stories, as those both have different query letter elements that I don’t address here.

Is Your Work Ready? Are You Ready?

This is a huge question. You can feel like you’re ready. You can envision your name in print, see your novel on the bookshelf, have already made a list of the celebrities who will play your characters in the movie version. But what about your book? Is it ready?

Alternatively, your book may be ready but you aren’t. You keep tinkering with it, hoping for perfection, while days, months, years tick by along with any chance of breaking into the marketplace. In one case, it’s the cart before the horse. In the other, it’s insecure writers holding themselves back.

Not sure if you are ready? Take a look at Jody Hedlund’s How Can Writers Know They are Ready for Querying? where she talks about things writers can do to determine whether they should be querying or not.

Your Story and the Marketplace

It also helps if you have a sense of where your story fits in the marketplace. This is why you must know your story’s genre (what section it should be in at a bookstore). It is also why some agents may ask you list comparable titles in your query letter. Not sure where your story falls? Book Country has a great genre map that displays all the different subgenres within genres like Romance, Mystery, and Science Fiction.

What about the line between literary, commercial and genre fiction? Miss Snark provides a great overview of the distinctions here. Nathan Bransford’s What Makes Literary Fiction Literary? is also worth a look.

Then to make things more complicated “upmarket” fiction is also on many agents’ wishlists these days. Chuck Sambuchino of the Guide to Literary Agents Blog says it bridges commercial and literary fiction in What is Upmarket Fiction? Defining the Classification. Another blogger calls Upmarket Fiction the Non-Genre Genre.

Different genres have different story conventions, different word counts, etc. For a great overview of word counts for different genres, take a look at Mystery Writing is Murder- Word Counts and Colleen Lindsay’s Word Counts and Novel Length.

Submission Checklists

Still think you are ready? Then take a look at these checklists (ranging from micro to macro issues) to ensure your manuscript is up to snuff before you submit:
Preparing Your Pitch

The pitch section of your query letter is the most important element. Full stop. Not the credentials or the ass-kissing as to why you are querying this agent in particular, although that can sometimes help.

Note that for some agents, the sample pages might actually be more important than the pitch, so be sure to take a look at my earlier Resource Roundup post Opening Your Story, but in terms of the query letter itself (not your whole submission, which may include things like synopses and sample pages), the pitch is uber important to get right.

The pitch is the part of your query, generally up to three paragraphs (depending on who you talk to), where you describe your story. It is a sales pitch – you are trying to sell the agent on your story, convince them that it is the best thing ever and they want to see the whole novel right now.

Think of all the backjacket copy you’ve read over the years, and try to model your pitch on books in your genre, emphasizing in particular the main character(s) and conflict they’ll face in the book. The tone of the pitch should also match genre expectations and hint at your authorial voice.

It’s a tough order for just a couple of paragraphs. How do you distill a whole book’s worth of action and conflict into just a few lines? The answer is you don’t. As Roni Loren says in Single Best Piece of Query Writing Advice I Ever Received, you write your query based on roughly the first third of your novel. The query pitch is all setup. It’s that teaser trailer that makes you want to see the movie even more.

The more attuned you are to strong pitches, the better your query will fare out in agentland. The Miss Snark’s archives are full of query pitches and one agent’s brutally honest impressions of what works and what doesn’t. Query Shark and the BookEnds Agency’s Workshop Wednesdays also provide critiques to queries people send in for feedback. Valuable stuff if you haven’t nailed your own pitch yet.

Query Letter Basics

But let’s back up a minute. There are other elements of your query letter besides the pitch. Take a look at There Are No Rules’s 5 Elements of Query Letters and Guide to Literary Agents’s Breaking Down the Query to get a sense of how the whole letter should look. Nathan Bransford’s post How to Write a Query also provides a nice overview.

Have your query written? Make sure you haven’t made these mistakes: Rachelle Gardener’s Top Ten Query Mistakes and JM Tohline's Biggest Mistakes Writers Make When Querying Literary Agents.

Knowing what your book’s comparative titles are is also important, especially for those agents who specifically request them in their guidelines. As agent Suzie Townsend says in The Art of Pitching:
Comparable titles tell me the targeted audience for a manuscript, it gives me a better idea of whether I might like it, it gives me a better idea of where I might sell it, how I might pitch it, how editors could pitch the book to their sales team. AND Comparable titles also tell me how well-read the writer is when it comes to their own genre.
Any way you can personalize your query for each agent can also help you stand out of the slush pile. But beware. As kidlit agent Mary Kole says, “Just like with citing comparative titles, if you’re not going to do [query personalization] well, don’t do it at all.”

Want to see queries that get results? Check out the Guide to Literary Agents blog’s Successful Queries series. Agent Rachelle Gardner also provides a nice overview in Anatomy of a Winning Query.

And remember, there’s always going to be contradictory query advice out there, as Nathan Bransford talks about in this post.

Do Your Research

One author claims that a well-written query, sent to well-researched agents should result in a high percentage of requested pages in How to Ensure 75% of Agents Will Request Your Material.

That may seem like an obscenely high percentage considering the number of literary agents out there, but one thing is true: The more research you do on agents, the better sense you’ll have of whether or not they’d be a good fit for you and your novel. And do yourself and agents everywhere a favor – if they don’t represent what you’ve written, take them off the list.

Writers in the Storm’s post Hunting Agents and Jill Corcoran’s post Researching Agents provide a great overview of how to find information on agents.

You could always purchase the current copies of Writer’s Market or Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents, or sign up for services like QueryTracker or AgentQuery. The Guide to Literary Agents blog also has series call New Agent Alert, which is a great way to stay on top of up and coming agents.

But no matter which agents make your list, be sure to cross-reference them with the list of agents at Predators and Editors to ensure they are on the up and up.

Managing the Process

You’ve got your query and your list of agents. You are ready to go. You could just go ahead and blitz all agents at once. No one is stopping you from doing that. However, for most agents, you get one shot, and you want to put your best foot forward.

That’s why most people recommend sending your queries in batches or waves. Pick a few agents and send them your stuff. Then wait to see what happens. This can be a long process, but it builds in time for the writer to receive feedback on their query or pages so they can then tweak them for the next round of querying. See Nathan Bransford’s definitive post The Batch Querying Theory and Agency Gatekeeper’s The Middle Way – A New Method of Timing Your Queries.

In addition to you query, agents sometimes want to see your opening pages or a synopsis of your work. A synopsis is an overview of your story’s plot, written in a specific format.Writer’s Digest’s Your Essential Synopsis Checklist provides a great starting place. Remember that some agents will want to see a long version or specify a shorter one, say two pages. I recommend having a couple of different versions of your synopsis ready to go for when you start querying.

It can get tricky trying to keep track of when you sent which query to what agent, especially when agents all have different response times (or nonresponse times as the case may be). The Writers in the Storm post Organizing This Mess – The Great Agent Search Part 3 provides an overview of using subscription-based tools like Writer’s Market or do-it-yourself Excel worksheets. PS. I’m using Excel and it’s going just fine.

Following Up, Requests, and Other Query Etiquette

When sending an agent a requested partial or full, it is a good habit to paste your original query letter into the document. That way if the agent is reading your partial away from their email – more and more true with the prevalence of ereaders – they still have all your contact and query information at hand.

Getting Past the Gatekeeper’s post On Checking In is a great resource for writer’s wanting to follow up with agents. This particular agent also believes that each writer gets one revision, if they go about it correctly (Getting Past the Gatekeeper’s “Here’s my revision, will you read it? How to Submit a New Draft). Follow her advice if you realize after much revising and hand-wringing you’d like to send a new version of your materials to an agent.

And remember, each email, each interaction you have with an agent, should be polite and professional, because at the end of the day, regardless of your dreams, publishing is a business.

The Call

What happens when you send the right query to the right agent? The agent will call the author and offer to represent them. Go ahead and cheer – after all this is a major accomplishment. But don’t let your joy overwhelm your common sense. There’s still work to do.

In fact, you should have a number of questions in mind when speaking to the person that will potentially represent you and your novel:
Most agents understand that they aren’t the only agent you’ve sent materials too, so do not be afraid to ask for references from current clients. You also want to give yourself enough time to contact other agents to see if they are interested in throwing their hat into the ring. BookEnds’s post You have an offer… is a good resource for this process.

Getting the call is a moment many writers dream of. But as agent Scott Egan cautions, Getting the Call Means Your Work Gets Harder, so be sure you are ready.

Don’t Give Up

The long query slog got you down? One blogger urges writers not to complain publicly, or stop writing, or get too impatient while waiting to hear back from agents in The Three Most Important Things Not To Do When Waiting To Get “The Call”.

Need help deciphering your rejection letters? Perhaps Adventures in Children’s Publishing’s The Writer’s Rejection Dictionary can provide some insight.

Alexis Grant’s post What I Learned from the Query Process provides a great overview of querying and ways you can learn from it.

What happens when you get close after countless rounds of queries and revisions? AuthorAllison Winn Scotch tackles this in Setting Aside a Beloved Manuscript.

Tinker with your query, trunk the novel and try something else, but whatever you do, don’t give up.

Other Resources

And as always, if you have any querying resources that you have run across, please share them in the comments. Thanks!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

SOPA Delayed Today's Post

I'm delaying today's blog post until tomorrow to protest the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA), like many other sites like including Wikipedia, REDDIT, and countless others. To learn more about the blackout, go here.

To learn more about SOPA, CNET provides a nice overview in How SOPA Would Affect You FAQ

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Odds and Ends

Sometimes there are no themes, no ways to organize life. Things just are. Kinda like this post.

The Seven Year PenThe Seven Year Pen from Seltzer Goods is just flat out amazing. I bought one the other day, since I’m a big fan of ballpoints and writing longhand. According to the packaging, “100 million pens are discarded every day,” and this pen is designed to write 1.7 meters a day for 7 years. Sign me up! Um…literally.

Local Writing Group Resumes – Today, I’m meeting with the ladies in my local writing group for the first time since November. I’m really looking forward to reconnecting with everyone and getting back into the rhythm of critiquing and exchanging work. Taking December off was great for personal reasons, but now it’s time to get back to writing.

Fat Girl in a Strange Land ARC GiveawayCrossed Genres Publications is offering three advanced reader copies of the Fat Girl in a Strange Land anthology (which includes my story “The Tradeoff”) through Goodreads. Go here for your chance to win. I'll also have an interview with the editors when we get closer to the anthology's release in February.

Another Resource Roundup Forthcoming – I’ve just started to pull together a post on querying, which should be ready to go next week. Fingers crossed. I’ve been putting it off since these types of posts are so time consuming, but hopefully it will be worth the effort!

Taos Toolbox – I found out this week I was accepted to this year’s Taos Toolbox, a two-week master class in science fiction and fantasy writing this summer. It’s led by Walter Jon Williams and Nancy Kress, with Daniel Abraham as a guest lecturer. I’m really excited for the workshop, but now I’m already paranoid about what projects I’ll be workshopping, whether I’m well-versed enough in the genre (I’m not), and other feelings of unworthiness. There’s still time to apply to Taos and other SFF workshops this year – check out this great post by John Joseph Adams for Inkpunks breaking down the different options.

That’s it for me this week. Happy writing!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


2012. Another year, still shiny with possibility. What will it bring? What will you make of it? What will you resolve to do to make your goals happen?

Me? Well, I have a couple of ideas.

First, I resolve to write as much as I can.

A no-brainer, right? But this doesn’t mean I’m going to be counting words towards a daily quota. I did that back when I was still relatively new to writing and, although that was a great tool for me then, it’s not so essential for me now because of my interest in producing stories instead of simply generating content to get to my million words.

This is a rather significant shift. Before, I was counting words in my blog posts and writing prompts in addition to work on my actual stories and novels. Looking at my output as a whole in general without any real concern for the words’ purpose.

That will be different now, since my goals are now story goals instead of word count goals. I want to submit to at least two calls for short stories this year, and have two novel projects I want in reasonable shape come December. No matter how many words it takes to make that happen.

On a related note, I resolve to do a better job of taking advantage of the quiet moments that can pop up unexpectedly in life. I also need to be less self-conscious about writing in public places that aren’t libraries or coffee shops. There will always be something to distract me. I need to buckle down and stop making excuses. No matter how much the Wii games I got for Christmas are calling.

Finally, I resolve to find the best place possible for my work. Sure, I still want an agent, a book deal, a sale to a pro market. That hasn’t changed. But publishing is/has been/will be ever-changing, and I need to be open to all publishing avenues for my work and decide which one is best for it.

Sometimes, the best place is the only place that will publish it. Enough said. But sometimes it’s the token market with great distribution (for exposure) or the semi-pro market that has a podcast archive (for different delivery) or a non-paying market like Luna Station Quarterly with a small focus like female science fiction writers that fosters their community of authors.

Fit trumps pay in my mind, and looking back at the acceptances I’ve had, I owe a lot to the right fit.

What do you resolve to do this year for your craft? What are your writing resolutions?
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